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COLUMN: No Social Security taxes means no Social Security benefits

Tom Margenau,
Posted 11/1/22

Q: My husband is a 58-year-old farmer. He is a very stubborn man. He is opposed to paying any kind of federal taxes, including Social Security taxes.

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COLUMN: No Social Security taxes means no Social Security benefits


Q: My husband is a 58-year-old farmer. He is a very stubborn man. He is opposed to paying any kind of federal taxes, including Social Security taxes. He will do anything near the end of a year to show a loss on his farm.

He will buy equipment. He will buy seed or fertilizer. He will do whatever it takes so he can show a loss on his tax return and therefore not have to pay any Social Security self-employment tax. He has been doing this all his adult life. He is also a very old-fashioned man.

Even though I have a college degree in nursing, he will not let me work outside the home. I am 54 years old. So, we are approaching our senior years and I’m worried what’s going to happen to us financially. Will we be eligible for any kind of Social Security? I’ve heard of something called Supplemental Social Security for people who don’t qualify for Social Security. How does that work?

A: I’ve met stubborn guys like your husband many times in my 50-year Social Security career. Or to be more precise, I usually meet the widow of guys like him who come to the Social Security office following his death wondering what benefits they might be due.

They learn that because he didn’t put anything into the Social Security system, he (or the widow) won’t get a dime out of the Social Security system.

That’s the fate that awaits you. So, I hope your husband has some investments or insurance or otherwise has put some money aside, because the two of you will get nothing from Social Security.

You mentioned that other program that you mistakenly labeled “Supplemental Social Security.” I’m sure you are referring to the Supplemental Security Income program. SSI is a federal welfare program that is managed by the Social Security Administration. (As I always make clear to my readers, SSI is funded out of general tax revenues, not Social Security taxes.)

SSI pays a small monthly stipend (currently less than $900 per month) to disabled people and to people over 65 who are poor. How poor? Well, you’d have to have less than $3,000 in assets. With the farm (and with all that equipment your husband is buying to avoid paying Social Security taxes), I am sure you guys would never qualify for SSI payments. So, all I can say to you is, “Good luck!”

By the way. I showed your email to my wife, and she insists I add this to my answer. She said: “What do you mean your husband won’t LET you work? It’s your life and you should be able to make your own decision about working or not. Tom says that if you spend the next 10 years nursing, by the time you are 64 years old, you will have earned a small but decent Social Security retirement pension. And you’d have your own income from your job during that time. Think about that.”

Q: My husband and I own a small heating and air conditioning business in Northern California. We’ve been doing this for about 30 years. He does most of the physical labor. I do all the office work (except taxes, which our accountant does). My husband is 61 and I’m 57. We get occasional Social Security statements. He is scheduled to get $3,100 a month at age 67 and about $2,200 if he takes benefits at 62. My statement shows minimal earnings – and all from before we were married – but not enough to get my own Social Security. I remember reading past columns of yours about how moms often get the shaft (pardon my French!) in a mom-and-pop business, but I can’t remember why that is. After all, we have been filing joint tax returns ever since we got married. Can you please explain again why his Social Security record is full and mine is virtually empty?

A: Filing a joint tax return has nothing to do with the payment of self-employment taxes and the assignment of earnings for Social Security purposes. That happens with a tax form called the Schedule SE. And obviously, for all these years, your accountant has been putting only your husband’s name and Social Security number on that Schedule SE. That means all the earnings from the business end up on your husband’s Social Security record.

(And by the way, your accountant isn’t the only one doing this. In my 50 years of working for the Social Security Administration or writing about Social Security issues, I’d guess that about 90% of the “pops” in mom-and-pop businesses get all the Social Security credits – meaning 90% of the “moms” end up with a blank Social Security slate like yours.)

That’s the bad news. The good news is that it could work out for you, and that’s because you’ll get spousal benefits on your husband’s record. The combination of his high benefit and your spousal rate could end up netting you guys more money than you would have received if you had split the business earnings – meaning you each could have ended up with two smaller retirement benefits.

Also, assuming he dies before you do, your widow’s rate will be more because it will be based on his high retirement benefit.

Q: My first husband and I ran a small business together for 25 years before we divorced about 10 years ago. We both remarried about two years later. I am now turning 62. My current husband is 58 and plans to work until age 70. My ex is 68. I don’t have my 40 quarters because my first husband took all the Social Security earnings from our business. Can I get any of my first husband’s Social Security now, and later switch to benefits from my current husband?

A: No, you can’t do that. As long as you’re married to husband No. 2, you can’t get any Social Security from No. 1.

Your case provides a good example of how this tax-filing tactic of giving all the Social Security credit to pop in a mom-and-pop business can really mess mom up. You’re going to get absolutely no Social Security benefits for those 25 years you spent running that business with your ex. On top of that, you’re going to have to wait until your current husband files for his Social Security before you can get benefits on his record. In fact, that might be an incentive for your husband to file at full retirement age rather than waiting until 70.

If you have a Social Security question, Tom Margenau has the answer. He retired in 2005 following 32 years with the Social Security Administration. Contact him at




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